This lessened the antagonism between state and church. So did the weakening of the non expedit rule forbidding Catholics to vote in Italian elections. Pius drew on his experience in Venice, where Catholics had acted with liberals to keep out radicals and socialists. He was no democrat. He distrusted the radical Catholic idea for a reforming Christian Democrat Party independent of the clergy and open to non-Catholics, as identifying Catholicism with one political party, outside clerical direction, so that the church would be responsible for its mistakes and get no credit for its successes. Pius instead asserted his authority over the laity by dissolving the lay-run Opera dei Congressi, and regrouping these organisations beneath the banner of Catholic Action. Catholics could then be directed by their clergy to vote for Catholic candidates in any party Catholic votes now benefited moderate Italian liberals, traditionally opposed to the church, but now more frightened of the socialists, like the pope himself.
The politics of Pius was complicated by the Catholic 'Modernist' movement, as in Italy Modernism was more political than doctrinal, a plea to the church to embrace social and political reform. Yet here, as with Pius IX, it is claimed that Pius X enforced an 'integral' intransigent Catholicism hostile to modernity, in his handling of the French church, and his condemnation of Modernism.
Would Pius, by following Leo's policies, have spared French Catholicism further persecution? The dilemma facing French anticlericals like the prime minister Emile Combes was that abolishing the Napoleonic concordat of 1802 and disestablishing the church would destroy the state's control of her and throw her into the arms of Rome. Combes's fall left the introduction of the law to Aristide Briand, a moderate, surrounded by politicians more anticlerical than himself. His government was united in little except its opposition to the church; by exploiting that opposition it might survive.
The Law of Separation of 1905 abolished long-term state payment of the clergy and transferred all their possessions - cathedrals, churches, seminaries and presbyteries - to the state, to be leased back free to lay-dominated 'cultic associations'. This unilaterally repudiated an international treaty, the concordat, without the agreement of the other partner, Rome. The Law was also founded on a contradiction, claiming to guarantee freedom of worship, while keeping religion under state regulation, by insisting that the church transform herself through the lay 'associations cultuelles', bypassing pope and bishops and clergy. The application of the Law was to lie with the civil Conseil d'Etat. Thus the church was to have the worst of worlds, losing state support while
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